Let the cyber-guardians wade through the rubbish

They've already trawled the whole Net for you - and they'll post you the results on free e-mailing lists. Subscribe, advises Andrew North

The Internet is an Aladdin's Cave of talk, propaganda, data and junk. Think of a subject and chances are there will be someone else discussing it somewhere in the anarchy of cyberspace.

For many people, this chaos is one of the attractions of the Net. But it is also a chore, because you have to spend so long searching for useful information. World Wide Web sites whose titles sound interesting turn out to be overflowing with outdated material, or are always busy. Newsgroups - the Internet's public forums - are even worse. The discussions wander so far that the names of topics are often downright misleading. And while you're searching for gems, the phone charges are stacking up.

There is a way of avoiding this, though, one that gets others to do the spadework and keeps your phone bill down: subscribe to an Internet mailing list. Like paper newsletters or magazines, Internet mailing lists cover specific subjects, but instead of arriving by post, they are sent to your electronic mailbox.

There are thousands of these lists, covering everything from art to arms control to Manchester United Football Club to fly-fishing. Unsurprisingly (given the medium), hundreds relate to computer issues; another common topic is environmental issues. The majority are American in origin and subject matter, but this is changing fast. New lists are appearing in Britain every week. Just as anyone can set up a Web site, anyone with the technical facilities (usually a little skill with the Perl programming language) can establish a mailing list.

Not all lists are just straight newsletters. Many are interactive discussion groups on specific topics, in which any subscriber can offer an opinion or comment. You can tap into the debate about information technology policy in Britain by signing up to the so-called Collaborative Open Groups (COGs), run by the UK government. Its Web server (at http://www.open.gov.uk) has full details.

When the material proper arrives, you download it along with the rest of your e-mail, and read it offline. And, unlike conventional paper magazines, most mailing lists are free.

Not only do you save money, but time as well, because you no longer have to spend so long Net-surfing. Moreover, to be part of a mailing list, you need only e-mail access to the Internet. Lists are also a perfect way of meeting other like-minded people on the Internet. I have made many useful contacts through my membership of various lists.

Most discussion group lists have a "moderator", who reads all the postings before they are e-mailed to subscribers. This is normally the person running the list, although some are chosen by the subscribers. It may sound like censorship, but the main role of these shadowy cyber-guardians is to weed out irrelevant material. Nevertheless, even with moderators, some discussion groups get out of hand, leading to a mailbox clogged with angry "flame" mail.

Some can also generate vast quantities of mail that you may never have time to read. If you sign up to the African National Congress news list, for instance, you could find yourself downloading at least 150 kilobytes of text a day.

But where should you look to find a list for you? Several Internet books, such as Adam Engst's Internet Starter Kit, give comprehensive lists of mailing lists. But site addresses do change. The best way to keep abreast of what is available is to search the Indiana University mailing list archive on the World Wide Web (at http://www.ucssc. indiana.edu/mlarchive/). This claims to hold details of more than 11,000 lists in more than 300 sites. Type in the subject area that interests you and it will search through while you are on line. If you have a Web browser with e-mail capability, such as Netscape, you can subscribe there and then.

Joining a mailing list usually takes one simple e-mail request (often just < SUBSCRIBE listname your full name > in the body of the message). A computer program at the receiving address automatically notes your e- mail address and adds that to the mailing list. Usually it will automatically reply by e-mail with instructions on how to use the list, including how to find out who else is on it, and how to send messages to individuals or everyone on it.

It will also tell you how to "unsubscribe" from the list - which can be very useful when a list has, for you, exhausted its usefulness. File those instructions somewhere accessible. You must unsubscribe in the correct way - usually a message saying .

In the real world, getting off a mailing list is far harder. Even if you cancel your subscription, your name will probably have been passed to other organisations, guaranteeing you a lifetime's supply of junk mail.

But the culture is changing. Junk e-mail is already becoming a plague for some people and it surely will not be long before mailing-list owners start selling their subscription lists to other publishers. So be careful who you give your e-mail address to. You have been warned.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Project Management Support Assistant

    £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Railway Museum, the largest of its ...

    Sauce Recruitment: FP&A Analyst -Home Entertainment

    £250 - £300 per day: Sauce Recruitment: (Rolling) 3 month contractA global en...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales and Account Manager - OTE £80,000+

    £40000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

    Ashdown Group: Junior Web Developer - Kent - £40,000

    £30000 - £40000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Junior Web Developer - ne...

    Day In a Page

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project